On a Scale of One to Ten By Ceylan Scott

Title: On a Scale of One to Ten

Author: Ceylan Scott

Publisher: Chicken House Ltd

First Published: 3rd May 2018

Blurb:

Tamar is admitted to Lime Grove, a psychiatric hospital for teenagers. 

Lime Grove is home to a number of teenagers with a variety of problems: anorexia, bipolar disorder, behaviour issues. Tamar will come to know them all very well. But there’s one question she can’t… won’t answer: What happened to her friend Iris? As Tamar’s emotional angst becomes more and more clear to her, she’ll have to figure out a path to forgiveness. A shocking, moving, and darkly funny depiction of life in a psychiatric world. (From Goodreads, 9th April 2019).

Review:

This was a novel that I enjoyed but it was very typical of the many mental health books that I have read in the past. Tamara is admitted to a psychiatric hospital due to a suicide attempt and her self harm. Tamara is diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, a very underwritten about disorder, and really the reason I was drawn to this book.

This novel focuses on the relationships Tamara creates whilst at Lime Grove. But the relationships aren’t that well developed. But when you are admitted to a psychiatric ward you are placed with individuals and don’t have long to get used to their company. You are in a world where people’s most personal thoughts are shared, so relationships do become quite deep quite quickly, or what appears to be deep. So the setting itself may be part of the issue with the lack of development of relationships and is actually quite accurate of psychiatric hospital relationships for some.

I would say that some of this novel is very on point, whilst other parts aren’t that believable. There was a lack of focus on treatment and looking at ways to change thinking and working on a better set of coping strategies, which I feel is an important aspect to novels like these. However, it is based in a hospital ward and many people do not realise that the main point of an acute psychiatric ward is to get someone stable enough so they can work on their issues outside of hospital. The hospital is to keep an individual or others safe and reach a stage that they can engage in therapy once discharged. So I feel that this was an accurate description but I feel that recovery work should be looked at in novels like these. The ending felt rushed but did focus on the concept of hope, which is possibly the most valuable part of recovery when it comes to mental health issues.

This is an own-voices novel, and therefore the author has personal experience of mental health issues and this may be accurate to how she herself felt. I felt the thoughts and feelings of Tamara really did show a real insight into the mind of an individual diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. The Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) setting was a reliable account, although I feel that some of the staff were not at all realistic, whilst others seemed pretty on point. I understand that you are going to get good and bad members of staff but I feel you are more likely to get good, some bad and some okay, and this balance was not made for me personally. But everyone has a different experience and different hospital experiences depending on the ward that an individual is admitted to so this is likely a really good representation of some wards. I think because it contrasted with my experience a bit that is why I found it difficult to relate to completely. Some parts rung true whilst others didn’t, and my own bias has probably resulted in my opinion on this.

There is also a bit of a mystery going on. What happened to Iris? And this is an intriguing plot point for the novel. And one of the reasons I liked this novel. It provides a story to follow rather than the novel being solely focused on mental health symptoms.

Overall I feel this is a book that was mixed for me, but is an account worth reading, and does depict the mind of someone with Borderline Personality Disorder well. It is in some ways very accurate, but as I have said I feel books about mental health difficulties have a responsibility to address recovery and look at things that can help. But the importance of hope, at least, was focused on.

3.5 out of 5

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A Danger to Herself and Others By Alyssa B. Sheinmel


Title: A Danger to Herself and Others

Author: Alyssa Sheinmel

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

First Published: February 5th 2019

Audiobook Narrator: Devon Sorvari

Blurb:

Only when she’s locked away does the truth begin to escape… 

Four walls. One window. No way to escape. Hannah knows there’s been a mistake. She didn’t need to be institutionalized. What happened to her roommate at her summer program was an accident. As soon as the doctors and judge figure out that she isn’t a danger to herself or others, she can go home to start her senior year. In the meantime, she is going to use her persuasive skills to get the staff on her side.

Then Lucy arrives. Lucy has her own baggage. And she may be the only person who can get Hannah to confront the dangerous games and secrets that landed her in confinement in the first place. (From Goodreads, 19th February 2019)

Review:

We meet Hannah in a locked room of a psychiatric hospital, but we do not know what has brought her there. We are drawn into her mind, seeing everything from her point of view. To begin with, she only has short interactions with her psychiatrist who she names Lightfoot. Our only knowledge of why she is there is written on her file, Hannah is deemed “a danger to herself and others”. We begin to learn more about Hannah when she gains a roommate, Lucy. When Lucy arrives Hannah begins to reveal her more manipulative side and we start to feel the undertones of why Hannah may be in the hospital.

A Danger to Herself and Others is a difficult book to review as I do not want to give any spoilers. For the first third to half of the book, I was questioning a lot of the reality of the setting and treatment given which gave me an inkling about the progression of the novel. I felt uneasy about the novel but I think this was intentional. Once we learn more about Hannah and what brought her to the hospital things begin to make sense and the book became more comfortable to read.

This novel has a very constrained list of characters and focuses almost solely on Hannah and her view of things and this means we have an unreliable narrator. For some people, this novel may feel quite slow as there isn’t too much action, especially in the beginning, but it is a good insight into someone’s mind. This is what I found interesting, was the slow build-up of character. A Danger to Herself and Others is different from most books set in a psychiatric hospital that I have read as this novel does not focus too heavily on the interactions between patients, other than between Hannah and Lucy. Things begin to progress a bit faster in the second half of the book as we begin to learn more about what transpired leading Hannah to be placed in the hospital. This is when I began to enjoy the book more.

An issue I had, however, was the ending, it was sudden and although realistic it did not really highlight the potential for recovery, it focused mainly on the negatives like recurrent relapses. This I felt was a negative way to end a book, which I feel could have done more to inspire hope towards readers.

My overall opinion of A Danger to Herself and Others was that it tackled mental health problems that are usually not seen in young adult fiction. But it lacked depth into these illnesses and did not inspire hope in the way that it could have. I understand being realistic but I just felt the ending was drab. I felt a lot more could have been done with this novel.

I listened to the audiobook of A Danger to Herself and Others and felt the narrator did a fantastic job of bringing to life Hannah as a character. I would recommend listening to this audiobook for a more immersive experience.

3.5 out of 5

Pushing the Limits By Katie McGarry

Title: Pushing the Limits

Author: Katie McGarry

First Published: 1st July 2012

Publisher: Mira Ink

Blurb:

“I won’t tell anyone, Echo. I promise.” Noah tucked a curl behind my ear. It had been so long since someone touched me like he did. Why did it have to be Noah Hutchins? His dark brown eyes shifted to my covered arms. “You didn’t do that-did you? It was done to you?” No one ever asked that question. They stared. They whispered. They laughed. But they never asked.

So wrong for each other…and yet so right.

No one knows what happened the night Echo Emerson went from popular girl with jock boyfriend to gossiped-about outsider with “freaky” scars on her arms. Even Echo can’t remember the whole truth of that horrible night. All she knows is that she wants everything to go back to normal. But when Noah Hutchins, the smoking-hot, girl-using loner in the black leather jacket, explodes into her life with his tough attitude and surprising understanding, Echo’s world shifts in ways she could never have imagined. They should have nothing in common. And with the secrets they both keep, being together is pretty much impossible.Yet the crazy attraction between them refuses to go away. And Echo has to ask herself just how far they can push the limits and what she’ll risk for the one guy who might teach her how to love again. (From Goodreads, 12th May 2014).

Review:

Firstly, before I begin this review I have a confession to make…it has been quite a few months since I read this book and although I remember most of what happens I am a little hazy on the details. For that I appologise.

However, I am still going to review this book as I really did enjoy it and know I will be getting the companion novels at some point in the future (maybe when my TBR pile is slightly smaller!) ‘Pushing The Limits’ presents us with two protagonists who are dealing with a lot for their ages, however, sometimes finding another who is going through a rough time is what you need to get through it. Echo is dealing with forgotten memories. Noah is dealing with the death of his parents. Both are dealing with high school…and a persistent school councilor.

This is a novel that deals with difficult issues whilst also being very readable and not too ‘dark’ making it fantastic for teens and young adults…and adults too. We have a little bit of everything in this novel that makes it very real and raw. Katie McGarry captures human emotions impeccably and gives readers an adventure through the eyes of two teenagers lives. A realistic and gripping novel. Highly recommended.

4.5 out of 5

Other People By Kelly O’Callan

Title: Other People

Author: Kelly O’Callan

First Published: 7th March 2014

Publisher: Createspace

Blurb:

Painfully shy and socially awkward, Ginny avoids engaging in a world filled with “other people” as best as she can. After a failed suicide attempt, Ginny is diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and begins a journey towards improving her distraught life. In her quest to fit in among other people, Ginny studies the behaviors of her picture-perfect new neighbors, Jim and Nina, and tries her best to mimic their life skills. But, will Ginny’s attempts to be one of the other people help her fit into their world, or send her crashing back deeper into the dark, isolated world she is desperately trying to escape? (From Goodreads, 12th May 2014)

Review:

‘Other People’ is about Ginny and the way her life begins to change after her new neighbor, Jim, finds her during a suicide attempt. In arriving at hospital Ginny begins the process of therapy and is diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.

‘Other People’ is the first fiction novel that I have read about Borderline Personality Disorder and there were both good and bad things in this book. Firstly, this book acknowledged the true complexities and extreme emotions an individual suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder is inflicted with on a daily basis. It highlights what can appear like a simple situation to most people can be devastating for an individual suffering with this disorder.

Another aspect that I enjoyed about this novel is that it had a regular story line that intertwined friendships, relationships, and their complexities and further complexities by bringing in an individual dealing with emotional instability.

However, I was not happy with the fact the psychiatrist in the novel described Ginny as a ‘borderline’. It really feels, to me, that those with Borderline Personality Disorder are ‘borderline’ and ‘borderline’ alone. Further, he describes such individuals in such a diagnostically list like manner, simply explaining ‘borderlines’ alongside diagnostic criteria. Although this is important to understand individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder it just didn’t feel ‘real’ to me.

This novel is the first of what I hope will be many novels that deal with personality disorders and the complexities they add to individuals suffering from them. Further, this novel begins to challenge the idea that individuals with personality disorders cannot get better, a debate that is long running in psychology and psychiatry circles. However, many individuals learn to deal with emotions and begin to lead successful lives.

4 out of 5.

Kiss Me First By Lottie Moggach

Title: Kiss Me First

Author: Lottie Moggach

Publisher: Picador

First Published: 2013

Blurb:

A chilling and intense first novel, this is the story of a solitary young woman drawn into an online world run by a charismatic web guru who entices her into impersonating a glamorous but desperate woman.

When Leila discovers the website Red Pill, she feels she has finally found people who understand her. A sheltered young woman raised by her mother, Leila has often struggled to connect with the girls at school; but on Red Pill, a chat forum for ethical debate, Leila comes into her own, impressing the website’s founder, a brilliant and elusive man named Adrian. Leila is thrilled when Adrian asks to meet her, and is flattered when he invites her to be part of “Project Tess.”

Tess is a woman Leila might never have met in real life. She is beautiful, urbane, witty, and damaged. As they email, chat, and Skype, Leila becomes enveloped in the world of Tess, learning every single thing she can about this other woman–because soon, Leila will have to become her. (From Goodreads, 17th January 2014)

Review:

Reading the blurb of ‘Kiss Me First’ I knew I had to read this book! This is a brave first novel, but it is very well done. We are reading about suicide, but rather than stopping someone from killing themselves we are giving them the chance to go without the guilt of leaving their family aware of their death.

Leila begins posting on the forums of Red Pill, a website discussing philosophy and debating ethical issues. Leila feels that she has finally found like minded people, and begins to build a good reputation on the site. Soon she is contacted by the sites founder, Adrian, asking Leila to meet. And so begins ‘Project Tess’. Leila is learning all about Tess. Leila is going to pretend to be Tess after Tess commits suicide.

This hard hitting, very controversial topic just drew me in. At first I was surprised when I realised that this book was written retrospectively in Leila’s voice. But this works well. You begin to build up to understanding why she did what she did, and why she has reached where she currently is. This is a novel that you know has taken a lot of planning, and is skillfully put together.

This was an excellent thought provoking book that I would recommend to those who like psychological thrillers, and for those who want to have a good debate with other readers. Yes, I would say this is a book group novel. Or could lead to good debates in the classroom/lecture.

I can imagine some people will find this novel difficult due to the focus on suicide, but this is such a risky book that would always be the case. If you want a book that will make you think, pick this up.

However, this is all positive, yet I can only give ‘Kiss Me First’ a 4 out of 5. Why is this? Well I expected slightly more for some reason, I felt at points the novel stood still, and didn’t have as much speed as I expect. But despite this I still loved this novel, would read it again, and recommend to people.

4 out of 5.

Saving Max By Antoinette van Heugton

Title: Saving Max

Author: Antoinette Van Heugten

First Published: 28th September 2010

Publisher: Harlequin

Blurb:

Max Parkman – —autistic and whip-smart, emotionally fragile and aggressive— – is perfect in his mother’s eyes. Until he’s accused of murder.

Attorney Danielle Parkman knows her teenage son Max’s behavior has been getting worse—using drugs and lashing out. But she can’t accept the diagnosis she receives at a top-notch adolescent psychiatric facility that her son is deeply disturbed. Dangerous.

Until she finds Max, unconscious and bloodied, beside a patient who has been brutally stabbed to death.

Trapped in a world of doubt and fear, barred from contacting Max, Danielle clings to the belief that her son is innocent. But has she, too, lost touch with reality? Is her son really a killer?

With the justice system bearing down on them, Danielle steels herself to discover the truth, no matter what it is. She’ll do whatever it takes to find the killer and to save her son from being destroyed by a system that’s all too eager to convict him.

Review:

I really enjoyed ‘Saving Max’ much more than I thought I would. This was a book I came about by accident really, hadn’t heard anything about, had not read any reviews, and had not seen anyone talking about it. I had never heard of the author, or any of her other books, books that I will now be checking out!

The primary aspect which attracted me to ‘Saving Max’ was that it was a book about a boy with Autism. I find Autism a fascinating disorder, and mixed with murder, well that is not something you come across so often. If you are worried that this is a book that reflects negatively on people with Autism and associates their behaviour with violence please don’t. The author has dealt with this issue in a sensitive yet realistic way. People with Autism can be violent, but more often can be violent to themselves, rather than others and this is captured well.

Max is a teenager who is struggling with life and when his mother finds out he is planning to commit suicide their psychiatrist sends them to a specialist hospital. Here Max’s behaviour begins to dramatically change and the son Danielle once knew is gone. When Max is found next to another patient, both covered in blood and Max the only one still alive, we witness the frantic love of a mother attempting to save her son and prove his innocence. But has her son changed so far beyond the boy she once knew?

Once we get to the murder trial we are thrown about in all directions, and completely gripped. The novel becomes so bizarrely dramatic that it is just hard to believe but so fascinating! I absolutely loved it. It just had so many twists and turns and moments where you really don’t know what has happened.

If you are wanting a light read, do not read this. If you are wanting a gripping, hard hitting, drama filled, crime novel with a mental health aspect this is perfect!

Antoinette van Heugten is a skilled writer and story teller. An author everyone must add to their collection!

5 out of 5

The Silver Linings Playbook By Mathew Quick

Title: The Silver Linings Playbook

Author: Mathew Quick

Publisher: Sarah Crichton Books

First Published: 2nd September 2008

Blurb:

Meet Pat. Pat has a theory: his life is a movie produced by God. And his God-given mission is to become physically fit and emotionally literate, whereupon God will ensure a happy ending for him — the return of his estranged wife Nikki. (It might not come as a surprise to learn that Pat has spent time in a mental health facility.) The problem is, Pat’s now home, and everything feels off. No one will talk to him about Nikki; his beloved Philadelphia Eagles keep losing; he’s being pursued by the deeply odd Tiffany; his new therapist seems to recommend adultery as a form of therapy. Plus, he’s being hunted by Kenny G! (From Goodreads, 1st December 2013)

Review:

I initially saw ‘The Silver Linings Playbook’ film adaption, and thus the film will have barged it’s way into my reading experience, despite my attempts to avoid this happening. So I will say my review is slightly contaminated with the film adaption, and please keep that in mind!

When Pat returns to his parents home he must begin to deal with his time in a mental health facility, what instigated his stay and how to move forward in his life. The problem is, Pat’s main focus is in trying to win back his ex wife. He starts reading all the novels she teaches her school kids, has become athletic and has attempted to make himself the husband he thinks will bring his wife back.

I really enjoyed ‘The Silver Linings Playbook’ due to the fantastic characters. Firstly, Pat and his true determination to improve himself, despite the slightly misguided intentions. Tiffany, as damaged as Pat, with an abrupt personality that continues to shock. Pat’s therapist is a man who entertains and is an avid Eagles fan just like Pat. It is these characters that make the book. If it wasn’t for them I don’t think I would have enjoyed it.

The book is written in quite a simplistic style, with Pat as the narrator, and sometimes it is slightly monotonous as it sometimes appears to be lists of activities. However, I think this is Mathew Quick (the author) trying to emulate the childish nature of Pat, in which case it is a good narrative tool. My other issue was the constant talk about the Eagles matches. Being female, with little interest in sport, this just causes frustration. But, it is Pat’s character and is integral to the culture in which Pat belongs.

A book that deals with multiple issues, brings humor into some dark situations, shows determination, and strength of character.

Again I must reiterate that I saw the film first, and that has affected my reading of this novel. However, I really enjoyed this novel, despite the film taking away my ability to use my imagination.

A book that many will enjoy.

4 out of 5

Your Voice in my Head By Emma Forrest

Title: Your Voice in my Head

Author: Emma Forrest

First Published: 1st January 2011

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

Blurb:

Emma Forrest, an English journalist, was twenty-two and living in America when she realised that her quirks had gone beyond eccentricity. Lonely, in a dangerous cycle of self-harm and damaging relationships, she found herself in the chair of a slim, balding and effortlessly optimistic psychiatrist – a man whose wisdom and humanity would wrench her from the vibrant and dangerous tide of herself, and who would help her to recover when she tried to end her life. Emma’s loving and supportive family circled around her in panic. She was on the brink of drowning. But she was also still working, still exploring, still writing, and she had also fallen deeply in love. One day, when Emma called to make an appointment with her psychiatrist, she found no one there. He had died, shockingly, at the age of fifty-three, leaving behind a young family. Processing the premature death of a man who’d become her anchor after she’d turned up on his doorstep, she was adrift. And when her significant and all-consuming relationship also fell apart, she was forced to cling to the page for survival. A modern-day fairy tale of New York, Your Voice in My Head is a dazzling and devastating memoir, clear-eyed and shot through with wit. In a voice unlike any other, Emma Forrest explores breakdown and mania, but also the beauty of love – and the heartbreak of loss. (From Goodreads, 24th November 2013)

Review:

When Emma discovers that her Psychiatrist has passed away she begins to reminisce about the man who had helped her to begin stabilizing her rather turbulent life. We learn about both Emma and her Psychiatrist through Emma’s words.

‘Your Voice in my Head’ is a novel written with a rawness that epitomizes the deep depressions Emma has encountered, along with the risky behavior of her highs.

This is a novel about grief and loss, as well as about finding strength, and using the lessons of those who are dead to help you in your future. It shows us the selflessness of some people, and the selfishness of others. This is a novel about people. The good and the bad. However, unlike many novels about mental illness, in this novel Emma manages to work, and continue with life even when this seems impossible. This was ‘nice’ because many books out there about mental health, memoirs and fiction, deal with people who do not function, cannot work and often are institutionalized. In this case it was a breath of fresh air to see someone dealing with severe mental illness but still holding life together, however precariously. Considering the majority of people with mental health problems are treated in the community and manage to work, it is a group highly under represented in the book world.

At the time of reading ‘Your Voice in my Head’ I had just suffered a bereavement and initially gave this book 3 out of 5 stars on my Goodreads account. However, I feel after writing this review that I did not appreciate this books as much as I think I would have if I were to have read it at a different time. I now believe this is a novel I will have to re-read in order to give an accurate rating, but due to the points I raised above I will give ‘Your Voice in my Head’ a 4 out of 5.

Hold Still By Nina LaCour

Title: Hold Still

Author: Nina LaCour

First Published: 25th September 2009

Publisher: Dutton Juvenile

Blurb:

Devastating, hopeful, hopeless, playful . . . in words and illustrations, Ingrid left behind a painful farewell in her journal for Caitlin. Now Caitlin is left alone, by loss and by choice, struggling to find renewed hope in the wake of her best friend’s suicide. With the help of family and new-found friends, Caitlin will encounter first love, broaden her horizons, and start to realize that true friendship didn’t die with Ingrid. And the journal which once seemed only to chronicle Ingrid’s descent into depression, becomes the tool by which Caitlin once again reaches out to all those who loved Ingrid—and Caitlin herself. (From Goodreads, 21st November 2013)

Review:

‘Hold Still’ is a hard hitting novel dealing with the topic of suicide. Caitlin is dealing with the aftermath of her best friend, Ingrid’s, suicide. Caitlin has withdrawn from life and is dreading the return to school after the summer holidays. Her parents do not know how to help there grieving daughter and Caitlin does not know how to deal with her loss.

Upon finding Ingrid’s journal Caitlin begins to learn what went through her friends mind during those last months before she ended her life.

‘Hold Still’ was Nina LaCour’s debut novel and a brave novel at that. I was taken in by the rawness of this novel and the fact that this novel dealt with teen suicide – a topic that you do not find often. Nina captures the loneliness, the confusion, the loss and the grief Caitlin is battling whilst also expressing the depression that plagued Ingrid to eventually take her life. Understanding the differences between these two states is hard but Nina captures these different states very well.

This is a novel that although the main topic is morbid, and depressing, we have a novel of hope. Caitlin begins to deal with her loss by gaining friendship in unlikely places. By finding a task that helps remind her that there is a point, that she can keep going. That she is not the only person who has lost someone close to her.

This is a novel on a tricky subject and it is hard to know who would appreciate this subject. As a psychology student who’s main interest is in mental health, novels like this are very interesting to me. I find it enlightening that such novels are written for young adults and that it can open up the lines of communication so discussion about suicide can come about, and no longer brushed under the carpet. However, the subject matter is hard and I would advise caution to readers who are fragile, have recently had a loss, or are dealing with issues such as suicide and depression. But, on the other hand, this novel may help some gain insight and strength to help in dealing with the issues they are experiencing.

A brave novel which I highly recommend and I commend Nina LaCour in creating such a thought provoking read for young adults.

4 out of 5